Monday, April 30, 2012

My longest bus journey..


After reached back in Kerala hurriedly, I now had to head to Hyderabad! Train was ruled out since I had to be there in the morning and not after noon. I had the option of Kallada, Kesineni or KPN. Decided to try out Kesineni, since I have tried both the other operators. I booked at their office in Ernakulam. The fare was Rs. 1600, and my seat number was 14. I chose Kadavanthra as my boarding point (Vyttila was better – I somehow selected Kadavanthra).

March 29, 2012, 11:30hrs:
I was already running late for my bus. Ernakulam is close to 2 hours by bus, and I was still at home! I hurried out of home at 11:35hrs, and luckily got a bus to Kodungallur (3.5kms away) quickly. I reached Kodungallur around 1155hrs, and prepared to head to Ernakulam in the first bus that turns up. The first bus to come in was “Hyder” – a fast passenger bus running on Guruvayur-Ernakulam (Vyttila) route. I was traveling in a private bus on that route for the very first time! The bus left Kodungallur at 1200hrs – there was a KSRTC right behind, which I saw only after my bus left the stop! This bus dropped me at Vyttila (Ernakulam) at 1300hrs.

After a bit of bus-spotting at Vyttila, I decided to take a rickshaw to the pick-up point of my bus to Hyderabad. I took a pre-paid auto from the bus station. The pre-paid autos in Kochi are different – you pay only Re. 1 at the counter, who would issue a printed receipt with the destination and fare to be paid. The rickshaw driver would collect only the amount mentioned on the receipt – not a single penny more. On the way to my pick-up point, I saw my bus parked at a fuel station. It was being cleaned. I was dropped at the pick-up point at around 1330hrs (the mentioned reporting time). Kesineni doesn’t have any waiting facility there – but the place has a lot of trees for shade (better than Vyttila). Parveen’s Mercedes Benz and Corona were parked there, along with a couple of non-AC buses of Sharma.
The bus: AP-31-TB-6868 being brought to Kadavanthra
 My bus – AP-31-TB-6868 – was brought in at 1342hrs. The bus just turned around and was ready for pick-up. The bus had two drivers (both in uniform), a cleaner (also in uniform) and a guy from their Kochi office. This guy checked tickets. The cleaner helped passengers to leave their luggage in the boot. The bus was very clean – both inside and outside. The seats had leather/canvas upholstery instead of fabric. The bus was delivered in November-2011 end (according to the PDI sticker on the windshield), and had run about 1.25lakh kms. About 5 passengers got in at the starting point itself. We started off exactly at 1345hrs.

The road from Kadavanthra to Vyttila was unusually empty that day – what ends up taking 20 minutes was covered in 13 minutes. We were at Vyttila exactly at 1358hrs (Schedule time is 1400hrs). Four more pax got in here. We started at 1405hrs. The driver was not very fast. The second driver was trying his best to sleep – and hence no movie/music was played. A female passenger sitting right behind the spare driver was shouting out at the top of her voice over the phone – the cleaner came behind and politely asked her to talk lowly or just ‘shut up’. By now, we were stuck in the awful traffic snarls around Edappally. Ernakulam bypass is now the busiest road in the city – the city roads are better than the national highway! We picked up another passenger from Aluva at 1434hrs.

The driver maintained a stead speed of about 80kmph all the time – lots of cars and other buses overtook us with ease. But the driving never seemed dangerous – the speed was consistent. We kept this speed all the way to Paliekkara toll booth (the controversial toll gate on NH-47 between Edappally and Mannuthy). He did reach 85kmph at times, but the occasions were far and few. I was busy reading a book all the while. A while past the last flyover on the 4-laned portion of the highway, a speed checking squad caught our bus for over speeding! All the while our driver was cautious not to over speed, and we were caught the moment our driver hit 90kmph! The driver paid the penalty, and decided not to be a good citizen anymore. We reached Mannuthy at 1538, and left after picking up a passenger.

Traffic after Mannuthy was awful – the bus did not go above 60kmph any time. The bus crawled big time as we neared Vadakkenchery. After crawling for most of the time, we reached Palakkad at 1652hrs. Three passengers got in here, and we left at 1654hrs. The second driver got up now – unable to bear the repeated bombardment from the cell-phone wielding lady. The second driver had some problem with an inspector at the TN Outgoing checkpost over payment of road tax, and now he was ready to finish off the problem. There was a very heavy traffic block at Walayar check post. The bus did not move even a bit for quite some time – the second driver got off and tried controlling the driver. After all the drama, our bus managed to wriggle out of the block and we entered TN. The bus stopped for a while at the RTO Checkpost at KK Chavadi for a while. We stopped for a tea break just after Neelambur Toll gate (on Coimbatore bypass) at 1821hrs. It was a small bakery there – no toilets or other facilities for passengers.
During the break at Neelambur, Coimbatore Bypass.
 This break was fairly long. Had a small chat with the drivers at this time – they said that the route has stabilized now. They get 20-30passengers on an average per day. He was mentioning that Kallada was also doing really well on that route – they too were getting fairly the same number of passenger as Kesineni, while KPN was doing very badly on that route. In the meantime, a minibus carrying the passengers boarding from Coimbatore came in. We were all asked to get in first. The cleaner took a head count, and then started boarding of passengers from Coimbatore. We started off at 1854 hrs, with 15 additional passengers. We now had 29 passengers on board – not bad for a working day!

The second driver was now in charge. Once all the passengers settled down, they played a movie on the Entertainment system. The movie was played from a portable drive, not a DVD or a VCD. The bus went inside Chitode to pick up one passenger (2024hrs). The second driver was not very fast as well, but still maintained very decent speeds. The first driver got off at Bhavani – now it was just one driver and one cleaner. The first guy said that a relief driver will get in at Salem. We stopped at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, near Sankari bypass at 2056, for Dinner. This hotel was opened only recently – they serve some really good vegetarian food. We left after dinner at 2125hrs.  The movie got over sometime after we started from the hotel. We stopped at Salem, near the new bus station, at 2156. About 6 passengers got in here. We resumed our journey at 2201hrs. This was the last pickup point for the bus – we had a total of 36 passengers now!

A good portion of the passengers seemed like traders, who were returning to Hyderabad after business. The typical techie/family crowd that is seen in Bangalore buses was absent – the passenger profile was totally different in this one. The bus waited outside Salem town (near the Toll Gate) for a long time for the second driver – but no one turned out. The driver was making some phone calls, but there was no resolution. I slept off after some time. I vaguely remember seeing Krishnagiri (around 2355hrs). From Krishnagiri, the bus got into a two-lane highway towards Madanappalle. I remember seeing a Checkpost at Palmaner. The ride was not great on this route – the road was bumpy, and there was heavy traffic.

I woke up at around 0430, when the bus pulled in for a tea break at a Bakery near Dharmavaram. The Trivandrum-Hyderabad bus was parked there already – the bus left immediately after our bus stopped. Another Kesineni B7R passed through without stopping as well. The break was upto 0443 – I came to know at this point that the relief driver did not join in, and the second guy (who took over at Coimbatore bypass) would be driving all the way to Hyderabad! The bus turned towards Anantapur from here, and joined the four-laned highway outside Anantapur. One passenger got off here. The driver now meant business, and he was maintaining three digit speeds for quite some time. I slept off again. I woke up again sometime around 0630 – we were still running, on the four-lane highway. The bus stopped to drop some passengers, at around 0644.  Just as the bus got moving, I saw some boards and realized that we were only at Kurnool then!

The driver clipped really well after Kurnool (speeds in the range of 105kmph). I slept intermittently throughout the journey. Most passengers in the bus were fast asleep. We reached Shamshabad at 0904hrs – now I was sure that I wouldn’t be reaching my destination at the fixed time. The bus turned off the national highway and entered the Outer Ring Road. It was bliss after this – the driver maintained 105~110kmph all the time on the ring road. Some speed limit boards kept on the road clarified that the speed limit on this road was 120kmph! Our bus overtook quite a lot of sedan with ease – we had an Aeroexpress bus also for competition. By now, the driver was getting calls one after the other – he picked up a call and shouted back that a single driver cannot get the bus on time to the destination. The bus exited the ring road at the Gachibowli exit. The bus stopped at the end of the exit road, near a Flyover in Gachibowli, at 0920hrs. Passengers towards Mehdipatnam, Lakdi-ka-pul etc were asked to get into their pick-up bus from there on.
The pick-up 'van'
 The pick-up bus, AP-28-TA-8009, was airconditioned. It was built by MG-Alma – I couldn’t find out which chassis it was based on. It was surely not a TATA or a Leyland. Sounded like a Force motors product to me. Almost 90% of the bus emptied at this point, and everyone moved to this pick-up van. The vehicle started at 0926hrs. It traveled through the core parts of the city – crowded roads, with lots of vehicles around. We passed through Mehdipatnam, and crawled into Lakdi-ka-pul at 0955hrs. I got off here, and headed to a nearby hotel. I eventually reached my destination at 1200hrs (my scheduled appointment was 0930hrs!).

The bus was maintained in really good shape – the bus clocks around 1100~1200 kms each day, and is abused very badly by the drivers in their attempt to make it to the destination on time. This journey was my longest in a bus – 19 hours and 35 minutes! My previous longest was 18hours – in a KaSRTC Airavat bus (Bangalore to CBD Belapur in Navi Mumbai). The semi-sleeper seats made my journey more comfortable this time. The crew was well behaved – all of them spoke Tamil, Telugu and a bit of English. No water bottle was distributed to passengers. Blankets were provided though. For Rs. 1600, it was paisa vasool – despite the delay, the bus was still more than 4 hours faster than the train. The single driver part was a bit dangerous – especially given the fact that he had hardly any rest at Ernakulam, or in the bus. Kesineni seriously  needs to ensure that two drivers are on board for such long routes.

Ratings:
Cleanliness: 5/5. Punctuality: 3/5. Staff Behaviour: 5/5. Overall: 4.34/5
Definitely recommended!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yahoo! I just won an Olympic Gold!!!

Oh! Is Olympics pre-poned? What event did I win in?

My Gold medal comes from an event that sees participation from a lot of people across India (or may be across the world). One can participate in this event from home, over a computer.
 
Now, what event is it? Chess?

No! Its called "booking a ticket". The venue for this game is the IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) website, and the game happens daily between 0800hrs and 0900hrs. To participate, one requires an internet connection, lots of patience and perhaps enough money to book 5 tickets (instead of one).

Participating in the game requires a bit of practice and some preparation. First priority would be to get familar with the layout of the website, and steps involved in booking the ticket - you do not get time to learn them during the play times. If its a holiday, also be prepared to wake up early in the morning.

Coming to my experience.. it was a Sunday - a lazy Sunday. I was in front of the computed by 0755hrs. I tried opening the IRCTC website on a recce to see if things were okay. The website was already down! The dreaded Service Unavailable message was displayed every time. This meant that my chances of getting a ticket was very bleak. I decided to give it a try, no matter what. The website kept displaying the Service Unavailable message all the time, till about 0805hrs. In the meantime, I had opened the availability page on the indianrail.gov.in website. Thankfully, all the 10 seats in Tatkal quota was still available, even at 0805hrs!

0815hrs: I was still repeating the log in - Service Unavailable - refresh - log in - service... routine. At one point, it went till the booking page, when I remember that I did not have my identity proof handy. I rushed to get the identity card, and entered the details. Service Unavailable again!

0830hrs: The gold medal is still elusive. The number of available seats slipped from 10 to 6. My blood pressure begins to rise and anxiety levels increase. I am still alternating between the Home page and the Service Unavailable message.

0855hrs: I get a call from my friend to know if I crossed the finish line.. I was still start the race, forget reaching the finish line. The number of seats available slipped one position down to 5. By now, I have three browsers open, each one of them trying to get into IRCTC. None of the browsers managed to go past the home page.

0900hrs: I stick to my tried and tested, trusted browser to do the job. The home page opens after a lot of struggle, but the next page is always the Service Unavailable message.
0905hrs: I manage to get past the home page, to the "Plan my travel" page. I enter my origin and destination, and the server responds. I select the required train and press "book". Fingers crossed. The server responds, and asks me to enter the passenger details. Details filled in, and proceed. It heads to the payment page. My bank responds swiftly. Now begins the agonising wait... will I lose my money and the server times out? Or will I get a waitlisted ticket?

0908hrs: I check the availability page, and note that availability has slipped one more position to 4 now. The browser is still "connecting". About half an agonising minute later, the IRCTC page opens. I got a ticket.. er! a Medal! A confirmed ticket.. a hard earned ticket!

The server take about 2 minutes to process my Print command. It took me exactly an hour and 8 minutes to book a ticket. All this even after IRCTC tightening the usage of the website by restricting travel agents from using the portal from 8AM to 10AM (??), restricting the number of transactions per IP address and what not. With the railways increasing the Advance reservation period to 120 days (from 90 days), tickets for the summer vacations got sold off long back.

Booking on the IRCTC website is a horror - especially during morning hours. The website is really slow - horribly slow. The railways flushes down enough money on vote-garnering schemes (like the Izzat ticket - a scheme that is heavily misused), and ends up not having enough money for upgrading their booking systems. Southern Railway ritually releases a press release claiming how quickly their servers manage to book tickets during the Diwali season - they even claim that majority of them are booked online. I wonder how do so many tickets get sold online given the dismally slow servers of IRCTC.

Its high time the railways spends some money on upgrading the servers at IRCTC. The railways had announced a new website to book ticket - a website that never ever opened! It took ages to log into that website - that website really made IRCTC look fast.

All said and done, I successfully got a ticket for a long train journey, after a long time. The 8-hour journey that I make tomorrow would be my longest by train in recent times (discounting the passenger train journey from Nilambur Road to Ernakulam Junction). Stay tuned for a report on the hard-earned journey.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Kallada to Kodungallur


A day after returning from Hyderabad, I was still just thinking of when I should return home from Bangalore. I planned to stay on for another week in Bangalore. I sat down wondering which bus I should take to head home, and made some plans. Towards the noon on March 27, 2012, I get a call from Cochin asking me to be there the next evening! All the plans that I had made collapsed in no time. The first thing I did was to check for tickets that evening to Thrissur – thankfully, all operators had enough seats on every bus. I finalised Kallada’s new Kodungallur B9R service – but for some reason, my booking wasn’t going through. I made a booking at their office in Madiwala – I was allotted seat #E1 (a Right side window seat).

My bus was to depart only at 2230hrs from Madiwala – that gave me a lot of time at home. I had my dinner from home, and I was dropped at Madiwala by my brother at 2215hrs. Headed straight to the Kallada office and reported – he tore of a portion of the ticket and made a remark on the remaining piece: “1361 / 10:30pm”. This meant that the bus that night would be “1361” (KA-01-AB-1361), and that would come at 10:30pm. The bus came in at 2232hrs (10:32 pm) – it was the red bus from the new lot, with the “Volvo 10 Years” logo on the sides. I got into the bus soon after it came in. We were having a fairly decent load factor that day – about 50% seats sold, that too on a working day!
The bus: KA-01-AB-1361. A new bus, with just about 22000kms on the odo.
We finally started from Madiwala at 2255hrs with around 25 passengers on board. I did not have a co-passenger – two seats at my disposal. The driver had to try a bit of heroics to take a U-Turn at the St.John’s signal – thanks to heavy traffic on the road even at that time! The bus took the Elevated highway and continued its run towards Hosur. The run until the border was eventless – just zipping through at three digit speeds wherever possible. There was one really horrible traffic jam after the border – our driver just changed over to the wrong lane and kept going.. seeing our bus, a lot more guys joined in. The snarl was very long – more than a km long.

We stopped short of Hosur flyover at an agency to pick up a passenger, and again near the bus station to pick up another passenger. We left Hosur at 2344 after all the pickups. The first driver was real fast – he just kept zipping through the traffic. For some reason, the traffic was really heavy on the highway. The heavy traffic continued all the way to Krishnagiri. Our driver, however, continued overtaking buses at a steady pace. In the meantime, there was some confusion inside the bus – a girl was searching for something under her seat. Soon her friends joined in, and the neighbours were woken up. They too were searching. Seeing all this, the second driver and the attendant came to the scene. She had lost her phone in the bus, and the phone was in silent mode. The attendant brought a flashlight and search under the seats – he quickly understood where the phone would be. He discovered the phone lying between the seat and the side wall. By the time the confusion was solved, we were on the Krishnagiri flyover. I slept soon after we crossed Krishnagiri flyover. I slept through for most of the distance since then. I woke up just as the bus pulled into the usual fuel station at Perundurai at 0318. They did not refuel, but just stopped the bus for a tea break.

We left from Perundurai at 0327. The second driver took charge now – this guy was even faster. But the top speed we did was 105kmph (according to my gps). I was awake till we reached Avinashi – we turned right from Avinashi, and traveled via Annur instead of going via the highway. Most Coimbatore bound buses use this diversion – perhaps to connect more areas of Coimbatore, and also to avoid the awful section of road between Avinashi and Neelambur (Coimbatore bypass). Our bus has a drop in Coimbatore – the only Kallada bus from Bangalore (except the day buses) to have a drop in Coimbatore. The bus stopped outside the SETC bus station in Coimbatore at 0443. A lot of passengers got off here – there were just around 10 passengers as we started off from here at 0446. One more passenger was dropped at Ukkadam. I slept after Ukkadam, and woke up when the bus stopped at Palakkad to drop a passenger (0545).
Interiors of the bus.
 The attendant was actually going to the passenger and waking up only the passenger who had to get down – but they did switch on all the interior lights. I slept again after Palakkad. I woke up just as the bus hit a bad patch after Kuthiran – we were nearing Thrissur now. Had another short nap and woke up just as the bus was about to stop at Kallada’s office in Thrissur (0704hrs). Their Chennai-EKM bus was also waiting there. They unloaded some parcels here, while the crew went to the office. More passengers got off here, and only three of us were remaining in the bus now. Our crew was now busy talking to the crew of the Chennai bus. The Chennai bus left first, followed by our bus at 0716hrs.

The driver was very cautious after Thrissur – it is a typical Kerala highway – lots of curves and narrows at places. He did not exceed 80kmph most of the time, and was very cautious while overtaking. Our bus went into Irinjalakkuda town, to the Administrative office of Kallada. A lot blankets were unloaded here, and they settled cash at the office. After this, the bus headed to the booking office in Irinjalakuda – where the crew took a long tea break. We finally left Irinjalakkuda at 0758. Now there were two passengers in the bus – myself and a lady. The lady was dropped a few kms ahead. I was the lone passenger for the last 10km of the bus. One of the two drivers also got off at Irinjalakkuda. I was finally dropped right outside my home, at 0815hrs. Kodungallur (the last stop of the bus) was still 3.5kms away. The bus went away empty – with just the driver and the cleaner on board!!
The seats: The leather/pseudo-leather upholstery was really comfortable.
 The bus was very new – just about 22000kms on the odo. The bus was serviced just the previous day – the interiors were just fresh. The seat covers were made of leather (or leather like material) and not the fabric that we see normally in Volvo buses. This kind of seat had better comfort, and it gets less dirty. The headrests had the usual cloth covers. Most seats still had the plastic covers on. The interiors were clean. Like in every Kallada bus, the interior colour combination was in sync with the exterior colour – I love Kallada’s buses for this fact. Since the bus left past 10 in the night (2255), they did not play any movie. They did play some music for about 10-15 minutes. The crews were well-behaved – they stopped right outside my house to drop me. The crew did waste a lot of time from Thrissur onwards – we reached Thrissur just past 0700hrs, but we reached my place only at 0815 (the bus would have reached Kodungallur about 5-8 minutes later). Regular trip buses finish that distance in a shade over an hour, despite umpteen stops. The tea break at Irinjalakuda was needless – the bus was terminating just 15kms later.

Ratings: Cleanliness: 5/5. Punctuality 3.5/5. Staff Behaviour: 5/5. Overall: 4.5/5.
Verdict: Suggested!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The 0340 Kodungallur Super Fast


February 14/15, 2012

This year’s Valentine’s Day was befittingly spent on trains and buses. After a mind-blowing trip to Kanyakumari by train, I settled for the night at the tiny “AC Hut” at Trivandrum Central Railway Station. With that 2 hour long train journey, I finished travelling on all railway lines in Kerala. I settled at the Station’s retiring room facility with an aim of getting into an early morning bus from Trivandrum. I hit the bed after setting an alarm for an unearthly 0230hrs. I hadn’t slept much the previous night and hence I fell asleep the moment I hit the bed. I vaguely remember snoozing the Alarm – it was 0300hrs when I woke up. I literally jumped out of the bed, got ready quickly and checked out of the room at 0315hrs. 

By now I mentally calculated my alternatives, and ran towards the bus station. My bus, however, was still standing there. Meet RNE424 – a Super Fast bus from my ‘home’ depot, Kodungallur. This bus was built by Regional Workshop, Edappal (in the Malappuram district of Kerala) on an Ashok Leyland 222”WB Ashok Leyland Chassis. The bus was about a year and a half old. My favourite seat – Seat #51 – the ‘hot’ seat was still vacant. I got into that seat without doubt – this seat actually gives a lot of luggage space. The scheduled departure time of this bus is 0340hrs – the unearthly departure time meant that this bus get very poor loads.
RNE424 - KL-15-8728 of Kodungallur depot. This is an old photo.
Our driver was waiting near the bus, while the Conductor was at the station master’s office awaiting the go ahead. The bus got moving at 0335hrs – 5 minutes before time. The load was about 60% as we began moving out. The roads were still empty – deserted, ill-lit at some places. The bus was vibrating fairly heavily – not as much as a TATA, but still too high for a Leyland. In the meantime, the conductor came selling tickets – the journey cost me Rs. 163. The driver was in no mood to speed – but he maintained fairly good speeds. We reached the highway in no time. Once on the highway, we had to trail loaded trucks for long durations – traffic was slightly on the higher side.

We stopped briefly at Attingal (0417hrs) before continuing the run. I was feeling very sleepy, and I fell asleep sometime into the run. I felt bad to sleep sitting right next to the driver. I am sure the driver understood my predicament. We crossed the Bangalore-Trivandrum Garuda (KeSRTC Volvo) near Kollam bus station. We reached Kollam at 0505hrs – the bus was stopped outside the canteen. I utilised this time for a short walk and had a cup of tea. The bus station was a beehive of activity at this point of time – newspaper agents were busy sorting newspapers and arranging them according to order, while some delivery boys were busy picking up their packets. The guys were all busy talking and teasing each other. I had a short chat with the driver, who was happy about the comfort of driving a Leyland over long distances compared to a TATA.

We started off from Kollam at 0523. The bus station was jam packed with buses parked in every corner – there were lots of buses parked on the road side as well. The driver wasn’t very fast, but surely maintained decent pace. He stopped for passengers on the way – even at places where Super Fast buses would usually not stop, considering the fact that day break was still away. While crossing the fishing harbour, I spotted a lot of boats coming in from the sea. We pulled in to Karunagappally bus station at 0553 – the stop was hardly a minute long. It was still dark outside – with not much to see, I was back to sleep. We pulled in to Kayamkulam at 0610 and left at 0613. By now, our bus slowly started getting more passengers – mostly people heading to Ernakulam or to Amrita Hospital at Edappally. We had another stop at Haripad (0630hrs). We crossed the Trivandrum bound KaSRTC Airavat Club Class around this time – this bus leaves before the KeSRTC Garuda (which we crossed at Kollam)!
Dash of RNE424.
I felt that our driver too was finding it hard to control sleep – he was singing so as to stay awake. I decided to not sleep anymore and tried different ways to keep sleep at bay. This particular bus operates on a very tight schedule – it reaches Trivandrum past 2150hrs and has to depart at 0340 in the morning. The driver gets less than 6 hours of rest. The unearthly departure time means that the driver actually starts driving at the riskiest hour on the road – the 3AM – 5AM period is when most accidents happen. The bus reached Alappuzha at 0712. The driver washed his face with water that he was carrying – this perhaps helped him remain awake. We left Alappuzha at 0715hrs – the scheduled time here is 0720.

The bus had fairly decent crowd by now. We also had competition – a Super Fast from Kayamkulam depot ran more or less ahead of us most of the time now. The other bus was to Thrissur – both the buses would go via Vyttila Mobility Hub, without touching Ernakulam bus station. We got into Cherthala bus station at 0746. The other bus too was running at our speed, and we maintained healthy competition all the way to Vyttila. The drivers are a happy lot after the buses were diverted through Kochi bypass – buses are now saving a lot of time, and drivers save a lot of the effort that they had to put in to squeeze these buses through the hell crowded Edakochi-Thoppumpady route. We reached Vyttila at 0839, and parked at the corner bay. The crew headed to the SM’s office to get the waybill signed, while I headed out for a stroll. The lack of sleep and the cramped seat had taken a toll on me – I was very uncomfortable by this time.

We left Vyttila at 0848 (scheduled time at Ernakulam is 0845). There was heavy traffic after Vyttila – we literally crawled till we reached Edappally. Our bus was more or less empty by now – around 10 passengers or so, while most other buses on the road were jam packed at this time. It took us over 20 minutes to reach Edappally from Vyttila – this was my first journey in a bus through the newly opened Edappally ROB. This road-over-bridge was a long standing demand from highway users – it took a long 13 years for the bridge to be built (delays were due to various issues over land acquisition, design, contracts, etc). We reached Parur at 0935hrs – it took a super fast bus about 50 minutes for this distance! The driver was really slow – he was still sleepy for sure. They had some parcels to unload (departmental packets). We left Parur at 0938 hours – by now, I was getting desperate to get home.

Parur to Kodungallur on National Hellway – 17 (NH-17) is a pain for any driver. Horribly narrow potholed roads, with reckless driving by private bus drivers makes it an ‘experience’ for everyone. Our already fatigued driver went very slowly on this stretch. Regular buses do this stretch in about 20-25 minutes, while our bus took 25 minutes to finish this distance, running non-stop! The bus finally reached Kodungallur at 1003hrs, completing its 263kms in 6 hours and 28 minutes including halts. We were 12 minutes before time despite the slow run!

Sometime back a news channel had run a story on how Kerala SRTC’s drivers were subject to restless schedules, which were causing a lot of accidents. This particular schedule accounts for only 5 hours and 50 minutes break on paper – in reality, the actual break time would be much lesser. The driver has to park the bus, have his food before he can sleep. He would surely have to get up by 0300hrs for a 0340hrs departure – making it literally a restless run. This schedule needs to be redrawn a bit so that the crew get more rest at Trivandrum – the departure time should also be delayed a bit so that the bus can get more passengers. Although the journey took less than 6:30hrs, it felt as if I travelled for a very long time in the bus – sleeplessness to be blamed! The bus was good – vibrated a bit heavily, but still not unbearable. It was clean and looked well kept inside. They had installed a clock on the dash and a bit of decorations as well.

Will I dare travel in this bus again?? Why not? Provided I am not deprived of sleep – I did not really enjoy this trip, since I was half asleep most of the time. For Rs. 163, this journey was paisa vasool!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Day Airavat from Hyderabad to Bangalore

I had realised at the time of booking my tickets to Hyderabad that getting the ticket back would be an issue - it indeed was. Most of the buses did not have tickets, and those that had seats, were selling above Rs. 1900/2000 - which I felt was too high for an 8 hour journey. I remembered that KSRTC runs a day bus between Hyderabad and Bangalore - checked their website and saw that they had two buses - an Airavat and an AC Rajahamsa. Airavat was the call. The bus was more or less full by the time I got into the ticketing page (the website was down for most of the time due to the festive rush). I picked seat #37 - a left side window seat on the last-but-one row.

March 26, 2012; 5:30hrs: I checked out of my hotel room and headed straight to Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station (MGBS) - the main bus station in Hyderabad. My bus would depart only at 0635hrs - that gave me a lot of time to roam around the bus station. The bus station was too crowded for the time - may be since it was a Monday. I walked into the parking area to see if my bus was there - there was one Volvo 9400 (B7R), with its staff getting ready for departure. I was sure that would be my bus. Took a couple of pictures of some buses parked there, and returned to the designated platform. In the meantime, I got a newspaper, and some cold milk. The "Garuda" platform came to life with one Garuda bus being brought in - it was one horribly run down B7R heading to Vijayawada. My bus - KA-01-F-8507 was brought in around 0625hrs.
The bus: KA-01-F-8507 of Bangalore Depot-2. This bus had clocked over 8 lakh kms.
The crew had a harrowing time to get off the bus - there were lots of "seat-seekers" trying their luck to get into the bus. The conductor somehow managed to get off and rushed to the controller's office to get the reservation chart. The conductor came back and quickly checked tickets of reserved passengers. I had my name struck on the chart and headed to leave my baggage in the luggage hold. The driver reconfirmed that I had a reservation. After leaving my bag in the bus, I headed out for some more photos. I returned just as the crew were preparing for departure. The bus was hot inside since the Aircondition was yet to be switched on. All the 45 seats were sold - most of them were reserved, while about 3 tickets were sold by the conductor.

We started from MGBS at 0637 - 2 minutes past the scheduled departure time. Since all the seats were full, the crew did not wait for more passengers. The bus directly got out of the bus station, and we were soon headed towards Shamshabad. The engine sounded "mature" - the bus had over 8 lakh kms on the odo! There were some niggling noise from the overhead racks - most probably due to improperly placed baggage. By the time the bus made it to the highway (past Shamshabad), passengers sitting on the last row were snoring off! I had to keep the curtain closed since the sun was directly on my side - and they did not play any music or movie. With not much to do, I too slept. I woke up only as the bus was pulling into a hotel for breakfast - at Jadcherla (0805hrs). I was actually shocked at the fact that the bus was just 5 minutes late from its schedule! My ticket mentioned that the bus would stop for breakfast at 0800hrs, and we made it there with only a 5 minute delay!!

The hotel had a "prepaid" policy for bus passengers - that is, one has to bill his food first, and then collect them from the "Self-service" counter. The food was fairly good. I stocked up some cold drinks for the hotel and remained near the bus. The engine was off, and it was fairly hot inside the bus. The crew came in quickly and we started moving out of the hotel at 0831. The temperature outside got hotter, and the sun was directly at the window. I had to keep the curtains closed all through the time - the glass was hot, and the curtain too was getting warm. The Airconditioner had to work overtime to cool the bus - it was quite hot at the rear. The bus was full, and I was more or less over the engine. Some time after starting off from the break, I fell asleep again. The TV was not working and hence they could not play any movie on it. People around me were either sleeping or playing/listening to music on their phones. I slept for about an hour or so - woke up only when the bus stopped at Kurnool bypass (1014hrs). There was some seat adjustment drama inside the bus - a lady passenger was shifted to a "ladies" seat at the front of the bus, and a guy who was sitting in the conductor seat was shifted to her old seat.
Another shot of the bus..
By now, most passengers in the last row were snoring - yes! Snoring in different tones. Some guys in the front were busy with their phones - every phone had a different ring tone, and I had a good time guessing the ring tones :) My co-passenger was fast asleep, while the guy on the seat ahead of me was listening to music on phone at so loud volume that I too could enjoy some music. Some time during the journey, I fell asleep again. I woke up around 1200hrs, wondering if the bus would stop for lunch. By now, it was very hot at the rear, and passengers in the last three rows were sweating it out. By now, the sun was on top of the bus - I could keep my window curtain open. The land around was dry - resembling a desert. I could see some railway track on the right side - that was perhaps the Gooty-Dharmavaram section of SCR. I wanted to see the famous Gooty curve - but managed to miss
it successfully! We pulled into a hotel on Penukonda bypass around 1258.

The engine was left running as the crew announced the lunch break and headed off to the Hotel. I got off the bus, but did no feel like having any food. I just had some juice and walked around taking some photos. The hotel was located just at the point Penukonda bypass takes off, on the Bangalore side. There was nothing around the hotel - just barren land around. I did some bus spotting on the highway. We started off after the break around 1328hrs. Just as the bus was pulling out, the passengers in the last row confronted the conductor and asked him to adjust the AC. It was getting hotter at the back, leaving all of us to sweat it out. I am not sure if the conductor did anything, but it did get a bit cooler later on. It is a ghat section after Penukonda. I kept tracking our current location on GPS, and get hopeful of being able to reach Bangalore on time as the journey progressed. I slept a while later only to be woken up by BSNL's "Welcome to Karnataka" message. We crossed Devanahalli around 1430 or so.
The bus at the hotel for lunch.
Things were good till then. The traffic worsened as we crossed the Clover-leaf interchange for Bangalore International Airport. It was one very heavy traffic snarl after Yelahanka. The bus stopped at Hebbal (1546hrs) to drop passengers - a huge number of passengers got off here. The conductor also announced that passengers to Marathahalli would get "connection" from there. As our bus moved, I did see a lot of passengers heading towards the "bus station" below Hebbal flyover. I did except some heavy traffic block after Hebbal - but thankfully, the traffic was moving. The bus kept spotting very often to drop passengers on the way. We finally pulled into Kempegowda Bus Station at 1614hrs. The scheduled arrival time was 1605hrs - so thats just a 9 minute delay!! That was really good for a KSRTC Airavat! We did 570kms in 9hours and 37 minutes - not really bad for a bus that did a top speed of only 90kmph!

Remarks: The bus was about 3 years old, and had done over 8 lakh kilometres. It was fairly well maintained - the AC was not very powerful though. The engine did not sound strained for the kind of torture it was subjected to. Our top speed on the section was 90.36kmph (according to my GPS). The driving style of good - he did keep honking most of the time, but was not rash. Braking was smooth and overtakes were well calculated. I liked the way the driver maintained speed all the time. They could have played atleast a movie (sadly the TV wasn't working). Being a full time day journey, a movie or some songs would've been great. Of course, there are two sides to this coin - at times, the movie gets irritating and one would prefer not having it. But then, when you have nothing to do, a movie would've helped matters. The interiors did show its age - the seats were mostly worn out and dusty. The bus was not really very clean - time the seats are shampoo'd. Hope this service would be upgraded to a Club Class soon.


Ratings: Cleanliness: 4/5. Punctuality: 5/5. Staff Behaviour: 4.5/5. Overall: 4.5/5.
Verdict: Suggested!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Hyderabad Calling.. Garuda Plus this time..

While aimlessly staring at my mailbox on a fine wednesday afternoon, a mail comes in, with an invite to Hyderabad. I was required to be in Hyderabad that Sunday. That day was spend in dilemma whether to go or not - but I made a decision on Thursday to head to Hyderabad. Getting tickets to go there was easy - every bus departing from Bangalore on Saturday night had two-digit vacancies. I wanted to be in Hyderabad before 0630hrs, and hence was looking at buses that leave early - APSRTC had two Garuda Plus buses at 2030hrs (one heading to Nizamabad, and one working Mysore-Hyderabad). I knew that the Nizamabad service gets Mercedes Multi-Axles, while I had no idea of the other one - so decided to book on the Mysore-Hyderabad bus. I did not really want to travel in a Mercedes Multi-Axle, so was hoping to get a Volvo on the other service.

Getting the return ticket was an issue - I had to return on a Sunday, that too Sunday after Ugadi (which meant people got three days of leave together). Almost all buses on Sunday night were sold off - the ones which had tickets were selling above Rs. 2000! I wasn't ready to pay that big an amount for an 8-9hrs journey - so decided to spend that night in a hotel room and take the day service of KSRTC. I quickly checked tickets, and found that only the last two rows were remaining - quickly took a left side window seat in the last-but-one row. Days rushed past very quickly...

..March 24, 2012. 2000hrs.. my cousin brother dropped me at Shantinagar Bus Station in his Royal Enfield Bullet. I still had 30 minutes to go. The bus station was chocked - Shantinagar would earn the title of the messiest bus station very soon. The bus station was crowded - the very design of the bus station makes it unfit for long distance buses. The bus station is built for city buses, which would just run through, and not keep waiting for passengers. Half of the bus station is now used for long distance buses, and the remaining by city buses. They have allocated two platforms for long distance buses - Platform 1 being used by premium buses of KaSRTC and TNSTC/SETC (and PRTC) running towards Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala , while Platform 2 is used by premium buses of KaSRTC (and NEKRTC) and APSRTC running towards Andhra Pradesh. Buses to Chennai are handled on Platform 5 (a makeshift facility made on the road side outside the bus station).

The Platforms at Shantinagar can take in maximum of two buses standing parallel - the recent renovation has increased the 'shaded' area in the bus station and about 7-8 buses can now stand one behind other. One line is dedicated to KSRTC/NEKRTC buses, while the other line is for APSRTC buses. APSRTC outnumbered KSRTC/NEKRTC in the platform - the APSRTC platform was continuously inching forward. The buses are not switched off at the platform, since they need to inch forward as the bus ahead moves out. The KSRTC/NEKRTC was slower - their buses would be switched off, since the number of buses were on the lower side. NEKRTC buses were rarely entering the platform - they prefered to stay outside the bus station itself, while KSRTC's Rajahamsas too were parked outside. APSRTC sends all its buses to the platform.
Two mercs strike a pose! The APSRTC one was heading to Nizamabad, while the KSRTC was heading to Vijayawada.
The clock ticked past 2030 - the Nizamabad bus left more or less on time. There was no sign of my bus though. Around 2035, an inspector of APSRTC spotted me wandering around with a bag, in suspicious manner - he called me and asked me in Telugu what was I upto (I hope that was what he asked me). I showed my ticket - he quickly replied (again in Telugu) that the bus has left started from Mysore and will be here soon (thats what I made out with my negligible knowledge of Telugu). I took some more pics and later headed to the Nandini stall for a sip of cold milk. I just returned to the "APSRTC" platform, and saw my bus crawling in... That was a Mercedes Multi-Axle (naah! Not again...). I was somehow happy that I had played safe by selecting a seat in the middle - which are thankfully devoid of those ugly window facing AC vents.
My bus coming in, at Shantinagar BS. That KSRTC was heading to Secundrabad.
As the conductor saw me walking towards the bus, he asked me if I had reservation - he just asked me to get in. The driver asked me to leave the luggage inside the bus itself - It was a struggle to get my bag into the horribly narrow overhead rack in the bus. I settled on my seat - #24. This seat was incidentally a left side window seat according to the seat map, but it turned out to be a window seat on the right side! The bus was not switched off, and the bus kept inching forward every minute or so. My bus finally started off from Shantinagar at 2112hrs with a grand total of 3 passengers on board! We were late by 42 minutes at the starting point - not a great start, I thought! Although APSRTC promised a 0500hrs arrival at Hyderabad, I was hoping the bus turn up there atleast by 7AM.
My bus: AP-29-Z-2680 of Picket Depot, working 1083 Mysore-Secunderabad.
We stopped near Kanteerava stadium to load parcels (from 2120 to 2128 hrs) - that was quite unbelievable for a government bus! After filling the luggage hold, the bus headed towards MG Road, then towards Mekhri Circle. They played a Telugu movie (Baava) after the bus entered MG Road. The movie was interesting - a comedy movie. Traffic on the road was heavy even for a long weekend. The crew tried their luck at Hebbal (2149hrs) and Yelahanka (2203hrs) for more passengers - but no luck. The guy at the wheel (Driver-cum-Conductor) meant business as the bus picked speed on the highway. The bus did a top speed of around 115kmph. The bus pulled in to a road-side motel at 2305hrs for dinner - the place was near the Karnataka-AP Border (at Bagepalli).
The seat.. the legspace was poor compared to a Volvo Multi-axle.
We started off after Dinner break at 2329hrs. The conductor was still at the wheels - this guy was really fast. He was overtaking vehicles quickly - thankfully no horns or rash braking. The run was smooth, and I slept off soon after starting from the break. I vaguely remember seeing the bus stopped at Kurnool - they were unloading parcels at this time. I slept off soon before the bus started moving again. I remember that the driver was now at the wheels - this guy was slower than the conductor. I slept straight until about 0510hrs - the bus was in Hyderabad now. They were unloading parcels yet again! The bus dropped me outside Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station in Hyderabad exactly at 0529hrs. The scheduled arrival at 0500hrs - so a 29 minute delay. That was 570kms in 8 hours and 17 minutes - averaging around 69kmph! Now, that was mind-boggling for APSRTC!
Interiors of the bus. The curtains do not match the colour of the seat, which does not match the colour of the mat! Poor color combination.
Remarks: The bus was absolutely clean. It had about 19000kms on the odo - fairly new. The ticket fare was Rs. 958 (Rs . 900 base fare + Rs. 10 for reservation + Rs. 24 Toll Fee and Rs. 24 Service Fee!). The ticket was booked online - they immediately send an SMS to the registered mobile number. I carried a print out with me - did not try if the SMS works as a ticket. The conductor did ask for my Identity proof. The driving was decent - the first driver was very quick, while the second one crawled most of the time lugging the engine badly. The seats were not as comfortable as the ones in Volvos - they were congested. Since the bus was empty, I could manage to sleep for a good part of the journey. Punctuality wise, we left late by 42 minutes, but reached only 29 minutes late. The scheduled running time was 8:30hrs, but the bus made it there in 8:17hrs.

Ratings: Cleanliness: 5/5. Punctuality: 4/5. Staff Behaviour: 5/5. Overall: 4.67/5.
Verdict: Suggested!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A steam ride...

Nilgiri Mountain Railway is the sole surviving steam hauled section in India - steam locos do survive at Rewari shed, and are used for heritage runs in the country. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) connects Mettupalam to Udhagamandalam. It is a 45.88kms long line. The first 27.03kms from Mettupalayam to Coonoor sees steam locos daily, while the remaining section (from Coonoor to Udhagamandalam) is worked using diesel locomotives. It is an UNESCO Heritage site, and this prohibits further modernisation of the section (thankfully).

Back in the mid 1990s, I vaguely remembering asking my dad if we could return from Ooty by train - the option was shot down since the train is too slow, and runs on steam (yeah! that was a reason i was told). Some 17 years down the line, I was browsing the Indian Railways website looking for tickets to Ooty. I was looking at the date when the ticket was next available. This was in the first week of November - it turned out that the next available journey was on December 18, 2011. I called up Jayasankar and put this plan across - he was as much excited as I was. The booking went through after about 4 failed attempts - thanks to the super-computers at IRCTC.

The journey was still more than a month away - the mandatory approval process at home took some time. Meanwhile, I got busy with works at my college. It was project submission time, and I was running behind my guide to get my work approved. Days flew past, and it was mid-December quickly. Project pressure was the highest at this point, and the trip looked very doubtful at this point - the only saving grace was that December 18 was a Sunday. Jayasankar took a train from Trivandrum to Coimbatore - I was still sitting in College, as Jay passed Ernakulam. I reached home past 2, and quickly rushed to Thrissur. Changed a few buses to reach to Coimbatore (that warrants a separate post).

Excitement levels were at the highest point on December 17th night. While I managed a couple of hours' sleep, I guess Jay did not hit the bed at all. We were put up at a hotel right outside Coimbatore Junction Railway station - we reached the station at around 0430 in the morning. Queue at the ticket counter was already too long at this hour - a good majority of the people were students heading to their hometowns for Christmas/New Year vacations. It took us about 15 minutes to get a ticket. Our train to Mettupalayam was already on Platform 3 - that was the Chennai-Coimbatore-Mettupalayam Nilgiri Express. It was one really long walk from the subway to the loco - in fact, one has to walk almost 95% the length of the train to reach the loco from the subway. By now, the coaches to Mettupalayam were detached from the rest of the rake, and the new loco had already taken charge.

It was one WDM2 from Erode that was working our train to Mettupalayam. We took the general coach closer to the loco - there were no seats around. We decided to door plate. The train left perfectly on time - 0515hrs. The 36kms stretch from Coimbatore to Mettupalayam takes about 45 minutes - we were at MTP by 0600hrs. It was still dark as we reached MTP. We were welcomed to MTP by an X-class Oil fired loco, preparing for its long run up the ghat. The loco was steaming up, and it was one amazing sight - a sight that would excite any traveler. That was something I cannot express in words. We spent time trying to capture that heavenly moment on our cameras..
Not the heavenly scene.. this is our "X-Class" oil-fired steamer getting ready for its day..

The next program on our cards was breakfast - Mettupalayam has one very good vegetarian refreshment room. They serve some really good food - the canteen works from 5 am to about 7 am and again in the evening. After an amazing breakfast, we were out photographing the celestial scene - the loco steaming up! It slowly dawned - with more light coming in, our cameras starting clicking at higher speeds. The loco - X-37386 - was brought out from the loco shed, and coupled to the rake at 0633hrs. The train, 56136 Mettupalayam Udaghamandalam "Nilgiri" Passenger, departs at 0710hrs from there. While the loco was being coupled to the train, I had a quick chat with the LP - who also turned out to be a Malayalee, hailing from Kozhikode. He confirmed that it was an Oil-fired loco - he was all praise for the original coal-fired locos.
The loco steams its way out of the loco shed..

She reversed and came in to take charge of our train..

The train has all of three coaches - one FC/2S coach, one 2S coach and one SLR. The lead coach is the FC/2S coach. The FC portion has two "coupes" - each coupe seats 8 passengers - 4 in a row, in two rows. Passengers face each other. The 2S coupes seat 10 passengers each. Unreserved coaches are sold in limited numbers, and only enough tickets to fill the seating capacity of the coach is sold. There is no overcrowding in this train - boarding for unreserved passengers is strictly by queue. The train started off sharp at 0710hrs. It was one thrilling moment as the train slowly pushed the train out of the station - the motion is pulsating, and is not smooth as in normal trains. The run from Mettupalayalam to Kallar was uneventful - it passes through a typical Tamil Nadu countryside. As the train nears Kallar, the majestic Western Ghats get clearly visible.
The line to Ooty curves around the loco shed, and climbs the ghats seen in the back ground..

Our rake getting ready for the ride.. Its a 3-coach affair.
Our train took a break at Kallar - the break was about 5 minutes long. The loco was watered here. The doors of the coaches can be opened only from outside - one has to put his hand out of the window to reach the lock and open the coach.The design of the coach was awful - the windows were dirty, and the coaches were very congested. The train takes a royal 5 hours to reach Ooty (Udaghamandalam) - still the seating in FC is cramped. Legspace is too narrow. Since the loco is at the rear end, the guard sitting at the front is responsible to check signals and also warn people who may be on the track. For the purpose, a battery operated horn is provided. Power for lighting in the coaches is taken from batteries installed in the coaches. Since the train runs very slow, these batteries are charged at the base station.
At Kallar: waiting for watering...
Meanwhile, we started off from Kallar. The rack-and-pinon section begins soon after Kallar - the ride quality changes after this. The pulse feeling gets stronger - one gets a feeling of the train going up step-by-step. The ride is similar to riding a horse - it goes dhak dhak. The gradients in the section are scary - the track goes through what can be called a proper forest. The train takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes to cover the 28kms from Mettupalayam to Coonoor, running at a royal speed of 8.4kmph! The train makes a stop every 45-60 minutes for watering (i.e., about once every 3-5 kms). After Kallar, the trains stops at Adderly (this station has no boards). There were no staff at this station - just a gangmen hut, and a person to handle watering. Each halt is about 15-20 minute long - people can stretch out a bit, and of course, take photographs!
Up..Up..Up!!!
At Adderly.. the loco gets watered.. while passengers may 'de-water'
 After Adderly, the train stops at Hillgrove - this is an official stop. This station has a station master, and a refreshment stall. This stop also serves a refreshment break for passengers. The halt at this station is longer than the other watering halts. After Hillgrove, the train stops at Runneymede - this is also a watering halt. This station overlooks a valley - the otherside of which has a beautiful tea estate. There is a very visible sharp gradient at the end of this station. It is a painfully slow run after Runneymede - the next halt after this is Coonoor (ONR). Coonoor is the first proper railway station that one sees after Mettupalayam. Steam power gives way to a YDM4 here. The halt at Coonoor too is pretty long - very long, in fact. The section from MTP to ONR is very scenic - but the slow speed might put off the excitement - since the scenery might get monotonous - never for a railfan though.
The Rack-and-pinon mechanism.. this is in its engaged state.
These are the racks.. they run at the centre of the track all the way. Each coach has a pinon wheel.
Somewhere on the way..
@Hill Grove..
Our loco being watered at Hillgrove..
Two additional coaches were added at ONR - the coaches were shunted in by YDM4 #6724. Later, this loco was replaced with YDM4 #6399. Coonoor has a big loco shed (Steam as well as diesel) and a fairly big coaching depot as well. The run from ONR to UAM (Udaghamandanam) is uneventful - it goes through typical hillside townships. Although this section does not have rack-and-pinon, the gradients are fairly steep enough. The YDM4 runs faster than the X-class, but the journey is still slow. The last 18kms from ONR to UAM takes an hour and 20 minutes, stopping at 4 intermediate stations.
The gradient out of Runneymade.. its a 1 in 22 up grade..
Two generations together at Coonoor
I had a brief nap after ONR. The lack of sleep the previous day was having a toll on me (Jay was already fast asleep by now). Thankfully, no body got off in any of the intermediate stations - so we did not have to open the door, or adjust for the people to get off. The train finally pulled into Udaghamandalam (UAM) at 1150 - early by 10 minutes. A huge crowd was awaiting the arrival of this train - this train returns immediately as Ooty-Coonoor passenger. There were cops everywhere - but they did not stop people from taking photographs. There ended our 5 hour long dream run - it was indeed a dream run! A life-time experience.
As our journey ended in Udagamandalam..

This trip is a must-do for all railfans - this would perhaps be the only metre gauge section that the future generation would see. The YDM4s would stay on for some more time, thanks to this section. This railway line is, no doubt, an architectural marvel. The staff on this route were very friendly - answering every question I had bombarded. Although the run is slow, one would enjoy it for the scenic beauty and the cool climate.